In April the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team won a national championship and an oil refinery in the neighboring town battled a dangerous fire. Those events seem to have overshadowed the biggest story of March: UMD women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller winning a discrimination lawsuit.
To recap: UMD officials opted in December 2014 to not offer Miller a new contract, despite her record leading the Bulldogs to five national championships. Miller filed suit against the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, alleging discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, age and national origin, and that UMD retaliated against her for making sexual discrimination complaints. The jury awarded Miller $3.74 million — $744,832 in lost wages and $3 million in emotional distress.
For the fourth edition of DuluthiLeaks — Perfect Duluth Day’s series in which public documents are released as if they contain secret information leaked from an anonymous whistle blower — we present Chancellor Lendley Black’s email to the community following the trial, and the UMD Faculty Senate’s rebuke of the chancellor’s “seemingly casual dismissal of the unanimous judicial verdict” and “unwillingness to accept a hard-to-hear truth.”
First, Chancellor Black’s email, sent March 15:
The athletics trial with former Women’s Hockey Coach Shannon Miller concluded today. The jury found UMD liable on Shannon Miller’s claim that her gender was a motivating factor in UMD’s decision not to offer her a new coaching contract. UMD was also found liable on her claim that UMD retaliated against her for complaining about discrimination. With these findings, the jury has awarded damages of roughly $3,744,832 in past wages and emotional distress.
While I respect the judicial process and the jury’s decision, I respectfully disagree with the verdict. I remain confident that our decision was not based on discrimination or retaliation. I stand by my decision. I understand that some members of our campus community may feel differently than I do and I respect that. This is an emotional matter that I take very seriously.
UMD leadership is committed to ensuring that UMD continues to provide a diverse and inclusive campus community. I am personally committed to keeping our campus focused on ways in which we can grow and better ensure that all members of our campus community feel respected, safe, and welcome at UMD.
Our priority has always been to provide our students with the best educational experience. That will continue to be our priority. Our campus has a lot to be proud of and we will continue to provide quality teaching and learning experiences, research that positively impacts our region, and engage in public outreach.
I also recognize that we are already in a budget deficit and there are many questions about the impact of the monetary damages awarded. We are responsible for the first $10,000 of the judgment, which athletics has funding in place to cover. We will know if there is more to be covered when the final details are worked out.
As well, I need to reiterate my continued support for Athletic Director Josh Berlo and his leadership. I am incredibly proud of him, the athletics staff, and the student-athletes who have remained focused throughout this time and seen tremendous success in the classroom, competition, and community.
The response from the faculty senate is dated April 24. There was much debate over the memo, but the senate voted 9-2 in favor of forwarding it to Chancellor Black.
TO: Chancellor Black
FROM: The Faculty Senate, University of Minnesota, Duluth
SUBJECT: Email to the campus community on March 15th, 2018. Subject: “Continued support for diversity, inclusion, and Bulldog athletics.”
As a body that represents faculty concerns, members of the Faculty Senate feel compelled to (a) inform you of the impact your response to the verdict is having on members of the faculty, and (b) request specific action steps be taken to move forward collectively to reach Campus Goal 2. We understand this was not the intent of your email, but nonetheless, it has had an impact on our campus community.
While the legal proceedings have been challenging emotionally, they speak to a very real concern on campus that has to do with systemic discrimination. The seemingly casual dismissal of the unanimous judicial verdict was viewed by some faculty as an unwillingness to accept a hard-to-hear truth. As chancellor and primary administrator of our campus, such a perceived attitude threatens our attempts to achieve Campus Goal 2: “Advance equity, diversity, inclusiveness, and social justice within the campus community.” The statements could also be understood as an administration-level invalidation of claims about discrimination in the workplace, even when judicial verdict and legal evidence have found them to have merit.
Dismissal of the findings at the highest level of administration could potentially discourage future reports of discriminatory behavior for fear of disbelief or dismissal. The UMD Campus Climate Survey (2016) found that between 20-25% of respondents experienced exclusionary, intimidating, offensive, and/or hostile conduct. The recent statements have the power to silence members of our campus community and thus increase fear about workplace discrimination and possible retaliation for speaking out against abuses of power.
We believe there is an opportunity for all of us to come together and reestablish our commitment to achieve Campus Goal 2. Here are specific requests we put forward to you to address campus climate issues:
- Provide detailed communication reassuring the campus community of the administration’s commitment to Campus Goal 2, including a zero tolerance policy for workplace discrimination.
- Provide a list of available resources and support for individuals experiencing discrimination (including workplace discrimination).
- Create a joint task force of diverse students, staff, and faculty to examine UMD’s current commitment to Goal 2 in budgetary terms.
- Create clearly defined systems of accountability for administrators at all levels to reach future diversity goals.
- Provide a response to this memo and action items therein, which can be shared with faculty.
To conclude, Chancellor Black, we acknowledge and recognize the language you have, in times past, used in regard to campus Goal 2; however recent communication suggests a dissonance between words and action. The continued support for diversity, equity, and inclusion is essential to the success and well-being of our campus community. Furthermore, the persistent pursuit of equity and equitable practices in all university arenas must be foregrounded if we are to fulfill our UMD Strategic Action Plan (2017-2021).
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